Designers must allow nature much greater reign when it comes to development in delta areas, says Frits Palmboom. Design with feeling and draw by hand, is the advice of the professor.

The official inauguration of the Chair coincided with the beginning of the Delft Delta Design Days. This is not by chance, since the theme on which the international symposium will focus is also relevant for the IJsselmeer issues on which the chair focuses, namely: how to prevent deluges in delta regions without the defences damaging the natural environment and spatial development. According to Palmboom, the challenge is 'to base designs on the landscape and the natural environment in which you're working'.

The Rotterdam urban designer has used this principle before, in his design for IJburg. It was the existing water lines, rather than the needs of the city, that determined the form this urban extension – a series of new islands in the IJmeer – was to take. It is the water that gives the location its appeal, claims Palmboom.

He also advocates this approach for the IJsselmeer Region Delta Programme, which was launched in 2009. This multi-billion-euro project, focusing on water safety and freshwater supply, has far-reaching spatial consequences. Palmboom's advice: make the most of the opportunities that arise and build on the natural dynamic.

Frisian coast

Although plans to raise the level of the IJsselmeer by one-and-a-half metres has been abandoned, along with the planned major urban developments of 10,000 to 20,000 homes, the programme that is essential and will go ahead still involves radical interventions. A much greater pumping capacity is needed, and dike modifications are required to allow a flexible water level. This has far-reaching consequences for the areas outside the dikes on the Frisian coast and increases the burden on the hard dikes around the IJsselmeer. Palmboom is calling for more gradual transitions. A more interesting and varied landscape with greater natural diversity can be created by constructing foreshores, sandbanks and shallows – measures that will also help to protect the area.

He is strongly in favour of the new proposal made by Natuurmonumenten (Netherlands nature conservation organisation) for a new nature conservation area along the Houtrib Dike. The area along the 26-kilometre dam between Lelystad and Enkhuizen ¬– once intended as the northern edge of a polderised Markerwaard – could, as a varied marshland, be an asset for the entire Randstad conurbation. 'And that presents a whole new design remit', says Palmboom. 'The Delta Programme should be more than a succession of technical interventions.' 

Van Eesteren

With the spatial interventions in the IJsselmeer region, Palmboom is following in the footsteps of Cornelis van Eesteren (1897-1988). In his inaugural speech, to illustrate Van Eesteren's skills and abilities, Palmboom looks back on the work of the man after whom the chair is named. The design for the Sloterplas lake, at the heart of the Westelijke Tuinsteden, the then newly built suburbs of Amsterdam, combines a vision for urban development as well as the landscape. 'By making use of a small old polder, he brought a landscape quality to a vast urbanised area. Truly unique.'

Drawing by hand

Palmboom pleads for greater emphasis in education on drawing by hand, even in the case of large-scale spatial remits such as those in the IJsselmeer region. 'Students who rely too heavily on computers are often unable to explain what they see', observes Palmboom. 'Drawing by hand enables you to distinguish much more clearly between main and secondary priorities, because you're physically following the lines in the landscape. In that way you literally develop a better feel for an area.' According to Palmboom, designers who work only with a computer often produce superficial designs. 'Insight into landscape intervention is lacking.'

This is one of the subjects discussed in the latest title in the series ‘Inspiration And Process In Architecture’, which Frits Palmboom launched. The book contains many drawings and sketches from his oeuvre.

Published: May 2014